Robotic welding torches can streamline the welding process and make it a more reliable and faster production. But robotic welding cells and the torch itself is only as good as what you surround it with. Beyond talented personnel, there are tools every welding robot and robotic torch could use to make automated welding a more effective and efficient process. We're going to cover 5 tools that I feel from all my years' experience seeing automated welding operations big and small that many could use to great effect on their robotic welding torch.
1. Torch Reamer / Cleaning Station
If you're using a robot to weld then speed and accuracy are very important. It's impractical to bring the robot arm and have the operator clean the nozzle after however many welds occur in the cell between cleanings. So having a reaming station in place for your robotic welding torch is extremely important to maintain the time and accuracy that a welding automation operation demands.
A full service reaming station will have three components: a reamer, a wire cutter, and an anti-spatter applicator. The reamer will remove all the spatter from inside the nozzle to allow gas to better flow from the diffusor to the tip and the nozzle to produce quality welds. The wire cutter makes sure you have the same stick out every time so you're getting good arc starts and hit the weld joint accurately. Since again speed is so critical to achieving the return on investment for your robotic welding torch, having the wire cut manually takes away arc time on and delays the payback for the robot. The anti-spatter injector/applicator also keeps spatter from building inside the nozzle and on the contact tip.I've seen in my own travels some robotic welding cells and torches that use the reamer but not the wire cutter or the anti-spatter. There was one particular user I encountered who would clamp a jar of nozzle dip near the cell and have the robot dip the torch into the jar. Not surprisingly, after a couple reaming cycles so much nozzle gel was stuck into the nozzle that the gas ports were clogged and they couldn't get an arc start, so they had to switch out necks. This is not an ideal situation or use of a reaming station.
For most users price is a sticking point when it comes to investing in a full service reaming station. And some stations can be expensive. But there are low-cost full service torch maintenance solutions available that offer the reamer, the wire cutter, and the anti-spatter injector that can keep the robot's arc-on time higher and accelerate the pay back more.
2. Alignment Jig
Any time you're using a robotic welding torch, the Tool Center Point, or TCP, is critical to the success of the welding cell. There's no better way to ensure the TCP of your torch before a neck is brought on line than by using an alignment jig.
Alignment jigs are also pivotal to repairing your torch neck in the event of a crash. Crashes happen as part of robotic welding - it's an unfortunate but unavoidable occurrence from time to time. If you are using a water-cooled torch, where the swan necks can be more expensive, having an alignment jig on hand can allow you to bend the torch neck back to the proper TCP in the event of a crash, provided the water-lines are not damaged in the swan neck. With today's collision sensors, crashes that damage the water lines are increasingly rare, so to be able to bend the neck back into place can save hundred of dollars each time a crash occurs.
Depending on how many robot cells are on line, having multiple alignment jigs on hand can likewise save time having or ensuring off line swan necks are matching the TCP before they are installed to the front module and brought into operation.
3. Air Blast
Air blast is a nifty and inexpensive (sometimes standard!) option to have built into your robotic welding torch. Air blast is a dedicated line inside the torch cable assembly that can be hooked onto an air compressor with clean air running from the back of the torch that shoots a blast of clean air through the gas ports to purge the gas ports and remove slag or spatter from them during air cuts.
Air blast lines can also be used to inject anti-spatter spray into the diffusor, tip, and nozzle, or be used to blast out any loose debris. As a torch option air blast also is very useful in keeping the contact tip cooler in between cycles. Even with a water-cooled torch it's important to remember that the contact tip rarely experiences the full effect of the coolant because the water lines don't reach into the contact tip. Air blast is able to shoot air from the cable through the front end of the torch and get the tip just a little cooler during that air cut to maximize it's service life.
4. Seam Tracking
Seam tracking has had it's issues in the past, but it is becoming an ever more reliable and dependable tool. Seam tracking is a device installed on the robot mount that tracks the weld joint seam and accounts for variations in tooling and fixtures to guide the robot - and hence the torch - along the joint to account for those variations. If your fit-up is bad, seam tracking can allow the robotic welding torch to still make a good weld.
As a tool, seam tracking is not for everyone. For one, it is a major investment. Second, it's not great for every industry out there. For instance, an industry like automotive has jigging and tooling can be so tight that it's hard to get a camera into such a tight space in some cases.
But, if you have an automated welding operation that has more open tooling or long parts where slight errors in the fixturing can lead to excessive scrap and rework, seam tracking can be an excellent tool to solve those problems.
5. Gas Control Devices
There are a whole slew of gas control devices to help you make sure you get proper gas flow. Some are very low cost options and some require a higher level of expense.
A lot of Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) require a certain amount of gas flow at the nozzle. A gas checker is a good little tool to have in anybody's pocket to make sure the gas flow from the nozzle on to the weldment is correct. Gas checkers really go back to the reamer stations, as well. If you're not using tools like reaming stations to keep the nozzle and the inside of torch's front end clean, chances are you won't get the desired gas flow from the diffusor to your nozzle and you'll get bad welds. A gas checker will tell you in your reamer is achieving those desired results.
Flow meters are also important tools to have because it's going to confirm your SOP to ensure you're getting the right gas flow cfh (cubic feet per hour).
There are also orifices you can install at the back end of your wire feeder that will restrict the surge of gas at the start of the arc, where typically you will encounter a higher usage of gas.
Electronic regulators are also effective gas control devices because they flow gas to the robotic welding torch's front end in synchronization to the welding current. The more amperage used the more gas flows to the front end of the torch; the less amperage used the electronic regulator adjusts to lessen the gas flow and avoid porosity. Electronic regulators also work like orifices to suppress that initial surge of gas during the arc starts so you don't use too much gas when striking an arc.
Robotic welding torches are usually well built, designed for repeated use, and can drastically speed up production. But without tools around the robotic torch to help it work and operate in the optimal manner, your robotic torch will struggle to achieve the best results it can and pay off that robot weld cell expense in the desired time frame.